Wok This Way

Went up the tollway on a CollageMama's Excellent Adventure to the new IKEA store in Frisco Saturday before last. The store is huge, even by Texas standards, measuring 310,000 square feet and having 1400 parking spaces, nearly all of them full. How big is that?

  • Typical McMansion built on a teardown/infill lot in Dallas--4000-6000 square feet.
  • Home Depot just received approval to build a 132,000 square foot store at the corner of Parker and Custer in Plano.
  • Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano's megachurch complex--800,000 square feet.
  • Reliant Stadium, down in Houston, the home of the Houston Texans NFL team--1,900,000 square feet.
  • The Pentagon--6,500,000 square feet.

Arrows painted on the floor guide customers through the two floors of IKEA. I would definitely be afraid to leave the trail! It could provoke Stanley/Livingstone nightmares.

The most intriguing features of the store are the four model homes. The homes showcase multifunction items and good design to make living in 300, 600, 900, and 1200 square foot spaces seem not only possible, but desirable.

It's time to think about the fuelish spaces we heat and air condition, along with the brontosauran vehicles we drive. This comment on Dallas homes is from the New York Times of all places! "Less space isn't as much of a problem as bad space." (Mil Bodron)

I left IKEA slightly dazed with a $9.99 wok and a blue oven mitt. By the time I found the Buick I was quite spaced out. This field trip was well worth the ticket price. So much to throw away. So much to organize....


Alternative building materials and construction methods

Growing up my favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder book by far was On the Banks of Plum Creek. Laura and her family lived in a sod dugout by the creek while Pa built their house. I may need to read it again. Yesterday I was searching for the missing candlestick holder from Grandma's buffet set (something I do unsuccessfully once or twice every year), and there in the WAAAAAAAAYYYYY back of the cupboard was an unopened package of Kraft marshmallows hardened into a perfect block.

Should I call FEMA? Kraft's website reports that more than ninety million pounds of JetPuffed marshmallows are purchased in America every year. What if President Bush asked every American to look deeply into their kitchen cupboards and make this personal sacrifice? What if only a small percentage of negligent homemakers found petrified marshmallow blocks? Just a teensy weensy percentage of what gets forgotten in cupboards would be enough petrified marshmallow blocks to construct new homes for thousands of disaster survivors at a fraction of the cost of those cruise ships. I am ready to lead this national drive!

In Nebraska, every school child learns about sod house construction, and about the can-do spirit of the homesteaders in history class. They learn early how the Plains Indians used the entire bison, and how beavers build dams.

Recently I encountered the word "crannog", and thought it was a misprint for cranberry bog. Instead it was a fascinating, ancient and modern building form. Google it yourself and see! That led me to wattle and daub*, cob construction, straw bale construction, and rammed earth.

*Wattle and daub, noun: (According to the American Heritage Dictionary of English Language: 4th Edition, 2000) a building material consisting of interwoven rods and laths or twigs plastered with mud or clay, used especially in the construction of simple dwellings or as an infill between members of a timber-frame wall.

I've always had a fascination with yurts and other forms of nomadic housing. I knew about Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes before I started kindergarten. Later, like many people my age, I had an "organic cousin" who wanted to build a house by hand. That's when I overheard his discussion with his engineer uncle about tilt-up concrete construction, and sprayed concrete dome construction.

It might have been in Ken Kesey's Sailor Song environmental apocalypse novel that I read of an outcast community built in and of a rubber tire landfill. Tires may not be the healthiest building material, or even smell very nice, but in a pinch they would do. The same could be said for marshmallows.

In Off the Map, eleven year-old Bo Groden keeps her "organic" family supplied with Moon Pies and other junk food by writing letters to manufacturers complaining about bugs found in their products. She receives cases of the products to keep her a satisfied consumer. I received a case of beer once by writing a letter including the seaweed-like item I nearly swallowed. Therefore, I could be considered a paid professional writer! Look in your cupboards for petrified Moon Pies, too.

Let's think for a moment about all those millions of plastic water bottles littering the sidelines of every youth sporting event across this wasteful country of ours. Fill those bottles with sand, or better, minced and diced packing peanuts. Recap them. Begin laying them side by side, lid by lid, on the ground, then layering them like a clay coil pot. See a structure emerge worthy of Andy Goldsworthy and Robert Smithson. On the interior, cover the surface with a pulp made from wet Dallas Morning News advertising circulars and Fashion/D! sections mixed with Elmer's. On the outside, perhaps something more permanent, more able to withstand natural disasters....not concrete....melted marshmallows!

As my organic cousin's engineer uncle might tell me, "You're daffy, but you're doing one heckuva job!" Maybe the President is roasting marshmallows at Camp David this weekend in the spirit of national sacrifice. Best of all, JetPuffed marshmallows are a fat free food!


Fretting and Stewing

It's amazing the things that keep us awake in the middle of the night. It's not surprising that we wake up in the night, trot to the potty, then worry about affordable health care for an hour or more. The U.S. health care and medical insurance system is a waking nightmare affecting all of us. Still, I don't worry about deductibles all that much. Lately I've been fretting about my lack of a winter coat for dress occasions.

My last dress winter coat was paid for by my parents when I was a sophomore in college. My gosh, I bought it at Hovland Swanson in Lincoln! It was a camel-colored wool wrap style, and hung in my coat closet for over twenty-five years. I liked it, but it was a rare winter when it actually fit. Some winters I weighed 105 lbs., looked anorexic, and the coat wrapped around me twice. Some years I was pregnant, and the wrap wouldn't go around my middle. Many winters I never had a single occasion for a dress coat. Then we moved to Texas, and it just wasn't wintery very often. Finally, alas, I hit a stage in life when it became obvious that the camel coat was never going to be big enough again. One year some natural disaster set off numerous coat donation drives, and the camel coat and I said farewell. It was sad, as we never really knew each other well, like employees in adjoining cubicles assigned to different projects.

So every recent autumn I have fretted about my lack of a dress winter coat. Menopause is a good thing, since I rarely need a coat anyway! Still, I know my parka looks really dorky on those January opening nights at the Dallas Opera.

Fretting, stewing, and insomnia don't have the hold on me they once did. I don't worry about the first day of school, or what to give people for Christmas. I gave up keeping track of the plastic chickens for the Fisher Price Farm. I got rid of my spouse so I wouldn't have to worry about what to wear to his office Christmas party. Okay, there were a few other issues involved in that transition, but we won't go into that now. There's no obsessing about what to wear to work anymore. When I started back to work a dozen years ago, I would be awake half the night, then unable to swallow breakfast, worrying about what to wear.

Funny thing. Next to nobody notices what you are wearing, as long as you are in the wide spectrum of "normal". Nobody cares what you do as long as you don't wipe boogers on their sleeve or puke on their shoes. Most people don't remember what you gave them for Christmas last year. Those plastic chickens will turn up eventually. In the meantime, EVERYBODY ELSE ON EARTH is obsessing about their own winter coat. We are all just galloping past each other at high speed, trying to lasso the right outfit!

So today when I went for some recreational zoned-out wandering at our aged, decrepit mall after a couple hours of spray-painting student sculptures, I was pleased to find a London Fog coat that fit without even looking for it! Better yet, it was seventy dollars off. Hat and gloves were on sale, too. I am good to go, and just not going to worry about that anymore! This coat may only fit one winter if I get suddenly skinny. It may hang in my closet for the next twenty-five years. I'm just not going to fret one way or the other.



There's a photo in my memory that I can't find online. It's Louise Nevelson with her trademark dark eye makeup and woolly bear caterpillar fake eyelashes, a scarf covering her hair, a dramatic black caftan, and a sculptural pendant. It must be from the Sixties, maybe from Look or Life magazine. Part Twiggy. Part Georgia O'Keeffe. Part Halloween shrunken head. Richard Avedon? Cecil Beaton?

Maybe it was Arnold Newman's selvage photo on the Nevelson commemorative stamps in 2000.

I did find photos of Louise Nevelson, just not the one that is hiding behind the creaky attic door of my web-filled brain. I bet no one ever called her Nevy Lou.

I have tied a scarf around my hair, and donned a caftan. I have gone into the Art Closet of Doom, and pulled out big boxes of Rx bottles, tp tubes, Altoids tins, every size of cardboard box, spools, corks, and all the lids from dried-up felt pens. My students are unwittingly using up all the recyclables that have overflowed the Closet. It is time for a purge. I'm even cleaning out my personal collection of eyeglasses!

You just thought you knew

Again my students have set me straight.

This is the Grin Eraser.

Admitted we were powerless over stripes

Step One
My co-teacher stages an intervention to convince me that I have a serious stripe dependency. She suggests that I go into wardrobe rehab to learn how to purchase clothing without stripes. I protest that I have some plaid shirts, but that is apparently considered stripe variant dependency.

Now I just stay at home wearing my stripes in private. In my solitary time, I take photos...of stripes. Maybe, just maybe, I have a problem.

Powerwash Interrupts Whitewash

I is for mosquito in Q is for Duck because mosquito bites itch. I woke up with an itchy trigger finger, anxious to start spraypainting the elementary art students' Louise Nevelson sculptures all white. I couldn't wait to see the transformation from carefully arranged interesting junk glued into a shallow box to striking, white architectural cabinets of shadowy shapes and forms.

There was a big roadblock in the way. Couldn't take the sculptures out to the patio until I folded five loads of laundry in front of the patio door! And I needed to disperse the recycling carts to the various corners of the condo complex. On such a beautiful morning, rolling the carts was a pleasant way to get my walking done.

Whoa. The painters had started powerwashing the buildings. This project of replacing siding and painting three buildings has dragged on for two months, so it was easy to forget about the possibility of powerwashing. I moved the Buick out of the carport so the powerwashing wouldn't take the paint right off of it! I roused another neighbor and we moved all the large potted plants and plant shelf, wreath, mat, and delivered package off the front porch of a neighbor on a business trip so the workers could get to the siding.

The title of this post sounds political in a week that has been called Bush's worst of his presidency. If you don't replace the rotten siding, it's not going to look any better with fresh paint!


V is for Chameleon...

"...because a chameleon seems to vanish."

Q is For Duck: An Alphabet Guessing Game, is the book of the week. I'm intrigued observing which kids catch on to the puzzle of the book. When they get it, the kids are so excited. One four year-old boy tells me when chameleons change color it's called "Camelotch"!

My gosh! He's absolutely right. I want to burst into song:

In Camelot.
Camelot! Camelot!
I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
But in Camelot,
Camelot! That's how conditions are.

Camelotch! What a perfect word to describe boys. My kids were addicted to camouflage from age three to seven. These were the little boys who used magnolia seed pods for hand grenades. They also carried shields and swords to battle dragons invading the fenced front patio that we called Camelot. They were partial to gleaming armor, but they called their GI Joe outfits "flage".

"Flage" sounds bad, like a mucus-producing bacterial infection. Besides the familiar pattern on the fabric, "flage" is distinguished by a surplus of pockets to hold Kleenex.

"Flage" wearers know what they like when it comes to birthday cake decoration.

The Online Etymology Dictionary guides me through my most elusive spelling word, camouflage:
1917, from Fr. camoufler, Parisian slang, "to disguise," from It. camuffare "to disguise," probably alt. by Fr. camouflet "puff of smoke," on the notion of "blow smoke in someone's face." The British navy in World War I called it dazzle-painting.

Little guys will always make me laugh. They gotta play hurt wearing their glow-in-the-dark dinosaur shirts, football helmets, and "flage".


Missing the smell of red rubber bands

What's black and white, and read all over? OR is your newspaper too red state? Feeling blue? I'm frustrated, too.

I am so close to ending my delivery of the Dallas Morning News! Not because of its political bias, poor proofreading, new format, or delayed deliveries. It's the information to recycling ratio that is bugging me. Newspapers need advertising. That is the nature of the game. Still, I'm beginning to think subscribing to paperless news sources is more earth-friendly.

I already get the New York Times headlines online every morning. I pay a small fee to see the full text of Maureen Dowd, and to have access to the wonderful video slideshows about art exhibits. What if I paid the $34.95 annual fee to get the NYTimes crossword puzzle online?

The newspaper experience has deteriorated across most of the senses over the past thirty years. Editors and art directors have been messing with the format of our newspapers for so long that I have to squint at my memories to see the glorious black and white parade of narrow columns on the stiff, slightly yellow newsprint that crackled just so when you turned the page.

I equated our newspaper's lack of color with a Joe Friday consciousness--Just the facts, ma'am.
What is it I really want from a local morning newspaper?

How much is the quilt/hot coffee experience worth in pounds carried to the recycing cart?

Performing Your Requests

My Wednesday afternoon preschoolers begged me to "read" the Blue Dog book to them again today. The book is actually Blue Dog Man, by George Rodrigue. I don't really read the book. I show the pictures, the paintings of Blue Dog sitting in different locations or against different backdrops, most often alone, sometimes wearing a necktie. We all brainstorm stories about what's on the mind of Rodrigue's mysterious canine icon. We laugh hysterically at our stories.

I paid full price for Blue Dog Man five years ago, and the book has more than paid me back every year. Three year olds love it. Learning difference elementary students love it. Pre-adolescents with emotional problems relate to Blue Dog, open up, and give me great insights into how they understand the world. I mention this because you can find copies used or at bargain prices now.

The big hits in today's "reading" were paintings with swirling backgrounds. Students told me Blue Dog was beside a weather map, or in a hurricane. They don't know that Blue Dog was "born" in New Orleans, where Rodrigue has lived for sixteen years. Rodrigue has a special Blue Dog silkscreen print, "We Will Rise Again", to benefit the Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the American Red Cross. Check it out.

Imagine Blue Dog, wearing a suit and tie, sitting at the keyboard of a piano bar. The cocktail waitresses whisper the patrons' requests in his ear, and slip a buck or two into the glass on the piano. Imagine Blue Dog being asked to play "Born Free" and "Impossible Dream".

In August of '68 our family went to Estes Park, Colorado, on vacation. This is my neatly written cursive account of a memorable evening at a favorite fancy restaurant:

We left McCook about ten. About twelve we stopped at a rest stop and saw a tiny lizard. [My sister] wanted to take it home...Later we had lunch at the Chicken Inn in Ft. Morgan. CRUMBY! It rained all the way from Loveland to Estes, going up the Big Thompson canyon. It was kind of spooky. We checked in to room 5 (same as last time). After awhile we went to the Coach House. [My brother] had some problems what with the trout and candlelight. Later in the evening Donna Lee from Laurence, Nebraska played for us. She was "juz dalighted" to play Born Free, Love Is Blue, and The Impossible Dream for us. Then we skipped rockes [sic] at Lake Estes.

A year or so earlier I wrote about our first visit to the restaurant, and noted that "we even got buckaroos", the Estes equivalent of a "Shirley Temple" or "Roy Rogers". Apparently my sister was so impressed she, "announced that when she grew up she was going to be a cocktail waitress."

My brother had a notoriously uneasy stomach when we were kids. In '68 he stared at the flickering candlelit eye of the trout reclining on its plate next to the jumbo foil-wrapped baked potato with sour cream. The trout stared back.

The trout and my brother should have sat up to the piano bar and had a few buckaroos. Blue Dog would have played their requests.

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go....

Born free, as free as the wind blows
As free as the grass grows
Born free to follow your heart...

Blue, blue, my world is blue,
blue is my world now I'm without you


Fair Day

Many school kids get a day off every year to attend their State Fair. My personal Fair Day is something different, and can't be marked on the calendar in advance. I had a minor version of Fair Day when I read about Eddie the maintenance man at Ruby Pier amusement park in Mitch Albom's Five People You Meet in Heaven.

This year my major Fair Day was set off by Friday's Dallas Morning News front page headline, "Fair officials see tram on horizon". Yikes. The story's subheadlines read, "Exclusive: Aerial cars called safer than those in '79 crash, key to plan", and "Memories of a fatal gondola accident 26 years ago still haunt one witness".

What stunned me was that fairs still had gondola rides in 1979, over a decade after a fatal tram ride accident at the Nebraska State Fair. The images were back. The vivid memory of looking through a pony ride fence at a parade of wailing emergency vehicles rushing into the fairgrounds in Lincoln, and then speeding back out again.

It was the first time I ever went to the fair. My parents picked a gray Sunday morning when it would not be very crowded. We were not on the midway. We were in the 4H animal barns. I think we were watching farmers chase a large pig that got out of its pen and was running around the aisles when we became aware of the sirens. As we went from barn to barn the sirens continued. Eventually we came to a place where the entrance and all the ambulances were visible. As we watched a pony ride go around and around in the dirt we started to hear people say that something must have happened on the midway. All my parents knew to do was keep we three kids from freaking out, and not go to our car to leave the fairgrounds and get in the way of the ambulances. I don't know how long we watched the ponies and the ambulances. It seemed like hours. I can see my little brother and sister riding the ponies. I may not have gone on the ride.

It was difficult to pinpoint the date of the Nebraska ride collapse. I sensed it was after JFK's assassination when I was in third grade. I bet it was closer to sixth grade when I would have felt peer pressure from the neighbor kids because, not only did I not have any Beatles records, I had never been to the State Fair or Disneyland. I was sure it was before my grandma broke her hip the week of the Pierce, Nebraska summer parade and street carnival in 1967.

Nebraska newspapers have online archives going back maybe a week. I spent too much of this weekend Googling and Dogpiling, hunting for the answer. It was in a place I should know by now to check first, the online archives of the New York Times. The midway ride fell in Lincoln Sunday, September 5, 1965. The day after the accident the Times ran an Associated Press story, "2 Killed, 53 Hurt as Towers of Cable Car Ride Topple". It included an AP wirephoto of firemen using a lift to reach passengers trapped in the gondolas, an effort that took nearly an hour.

Two persons were killed and fifty-three injured when two forty-foot steel towers supporting the ride toppled, according to the AP story. I believe several other persons died of their injuries in the following days.

There are significant differences between the accidents at the Nebraska and Texas fairs. The Nebraska ride traveled thirty-five feet above the ground, compared to eighty-five feet in Texas. I have yet to find documentation, but I believe the Nebraska ride was part of a traveling carnival "mobile venue" temporary installation. The Texas skyride was a permanent installation at a fixed site. I read quite a bit about a lawsuit following the Texas collapse, The State Fair of Texas v. The Consumer Products Safety Commission, in a legal article "The Continuing Showdown Over Who Should Regulate Amusement Attraction Safety", but I'm unqualified to comment on any of it. Carnival rides are regulated by the Texas Department of Insurance, Loss Control Regulation. In Nebraska they are regulated by the Nebraska Workforce Development, Office of Safety and Labor Standards.

I don't wonder that Todd Swanson, the witness interviewed in the Dallas Morning News story says he won't go "anywhere with makeshift rides", and he won't go see the planned new Fair Park tram. When he closes his eyes he might still see the man crushed by the gondola. I just see ambulances through a pony ride fence.

According to an Historic Fair Park website timeline about the Texas fairgrounds in Dallas:
1956 Monorail installed in time for State Fair. $400,000 of bond money allocated for Fair Park expansion Aug.-Sept. 1964 Monorail dismantled and “Swiss Sky Ride” erected in its place.

Dec. 1971 State Fair purchases and takes over operation of Swiss Skyride.
Oct. 21, 1979 Swiss Skyride accident results in 1 death and 17 injured fairgoers. Ride is closed down, never to reopen.
Oct. 1985 “The Texas Star,” a huge Ferris wheel, begins operating on the Midway.


Torch Songs

Listening to Dianne Reeves sing "Pick yourself up" this afternoon. Feeling the intense glow of a vivid childhood memory when I was completely in the flow of the moment. A thermometer had fallen and broken on the bathroom floor... The light blue linoleum tile bathroom floor.... The walls were still painted the glossy Chinese red so favored by our home's original owner, so I was very young, five at the most. My little brother and I are kneeling on the floor watching the mercury beads slide and ebb, divide and dance along the floor.

That might be the highest praise I can imagine for a jazz singer. "Your voice is like mercury on the bathroom linoleum."


Something Snapped

Tomorrow I will be at work, doing my job, teaching my kids, then talking to their parents at a school open house in the evening. Imagine that, I won't be able to wear sleeveless shirts, jerseys, warm-up pants, shorts, sunglasses, headphones, or headgear of any kind. I won't be wearing sneakers or pendants, and my tattoos will not be visible. Will I be whining about the fashion restrictions on my personal expression?

The NBA players should be thanking their lucky stars that they are not the unmatched socks gathering lint on the top of my dryer. In their worst nightmare they are the unlidded or unbowled Tupperware in my kitchen cupboard. This mama is in her Totally Disgusted Walrus Mode. She is slapping the useless, arrogant, overpaid, adolescent, and whiny entities off her iceberg with one fell fin swoop.


Holmes Lake Regatta

Put on your life jacket and sunscreen! This blog is going sailing in Lincoln, the capitol of Nebraska. True, Nebraska is landlocked, but memory is not. Memory has to bail sometimes, and may even have to stand on the daggerboard to right the boat when it turns turtle*, but it is free to sail all the way to the edge of this Administration's flat Earth and beyond.

Put on your oldest Keds. They may still squau-ucksh and squirrish from your last day sailing. No need to shower and shampoo before this outing.

My sailing experience is limited to a few golden summers and autumns on Holmes Lake, a Corp of Engineers project completed in 1962, in Sunfish, Dolphin, and Dolphin Junior boats in the years just before I learned to drive. We had fabulous fun learning the sailor lingo of "hard alee", "prepare to jibe", "come about", "high-siding", "tacking", and "running before the wind". Sometimes even the "doldrums" can be exciting.

Captain Small's little dog, Tinker, is more active than Blue Dog. My sons loved Lois Lenski's Big Book of Mr. Small, and my students love each story.

The lake has been dredged and restored in the last two years, and reopened this month. I hope a new generation of kids with slip on their squauuuuckshy tennis shoes and go sailing.

*turn turtle To capsize or turn upside-down: Our sailboat turned turtle during the squall.

My students are looking at images by Van Gogh, Turner, Homer, Whistler, Seurat, and others this week. We're using curves and overlapped triangles to create space and movement. We're off to sail the Seven Landlocked Seas!

Mail Art

Received a piece of mail art thirty years ago from my 2D Design teacher at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Shelley Thornton was a visiting instructor filling in for Keith Jacobshagen. I'm sure I still have the piece in a file or box somewhere, but I'm afraid if I start looking for it, I will get sidetracked sorting the personal postal correspondence of my lifetime which fills a giant Rubbermaid storage container, besides being stuffed in all sorts of other boxes and files.

I'm not really one of those barely functioning persons living in a tiny apartment stuffed to the ceiling with newspapers and mail and forty-seven felines. I just like getting and writing letters and postcards. I save everything interesting, but I don't do much with it (so far), beyond hauling it all with me whenever I move.

Shelley Thornton still looks exactly the same as she did thirty years ago. I wonder if she still wears high-top All Stars. The note she sent me was decorated with rubber-stamping and a hand-drawn zipper. I tucked it away as inspiration, and never forgot about it.

A few years ago, which could be any time since 1990, I went to a mail art exhibit at the Art Centre of Plano. The little bug in the back of my brain was reinspired, but too busy being a full-time mom to do anything with it.

So now I have time. That's what I'm up to in visual art these days. So far, the U.S. Postal Service has been kind to my creations and experiments.


Intrepid AutoMama Returns

"It's a flock of Monarchs! Come look!" It is so cool to work with people with similar interests and inclinations. We went to look at the flock of Monarch butterflies migrating to Mexico past our patio.

Monarchs are usually kind of ditzy, lazy flyers, a bit like the kite that you can't quite get up and going. They can take their time since birds know that they taste even worse than okra. They don't migrate in a tight V goose formation, but they weren't flying down low where I expected them. Hundreds of Monarchs were indeed flying over our school Thursday morning, up so high it was hard to see them. [That might be partly because my sinus congestion was a day away from me seeing lots of spots.] They weren't close together, but they were surprisingly businesslike.

My point, perhaps, is that we expect to find things where they usually are, doing what they usually do. When they don't behave as expected, they can be mighty hard to see.

This brings me to my son's 1998 Dodge Intrepid. Wanna buy it???

The Intrepid has been parked in my carport while he's putting on the Ritz in Italy and the surrounding continent. At first I moved the Intrepid every week or so, from one parking space to another, but the battery died about a month ago. I actually dusted the exterior once, and had planned to Swiffer it soon. Instead, I got word that I had to move it out of the carport before tomorrow because the painting of my building will begin in the morning.

Clicked my ruby slippers together, and went out to try to start the darn Dodge. No luck. Just then Invisible Guy arrived home. I moved in next door to Invisible Guy in July 2000, and we have spoken exactly ten times. If we happen to drive in at the same time, he jumps out of his car and runs into his condo.

It must have been the frustration and pseudoephedrine talking, but I jumped out of the Intrepid as he jumped out of his car, and babeled, "Hey, ____, they are going to start painting tomorrow, and we have to move our cars. My son is in Italy and his car won't start because the battery is dead." Then I did a really impressive rib-rattling round of coughing.

Invisible Guy said it might be possible to push the Intrepid across the parking lot, then he started to make a break for his front door. I coughed some more. He got out some jumper cables, but they wouldn't reach from either his car or my Buick parked outside the carport. He rigged up two sets of jumper cables, and got a Dr. Frankenstein look in his eyes. Alas, I looked more like Marty Feldman than either Madeline Kahn or Teri Garr. I popped the hood on the Intrepid.

"What the...? Where's the.....?," we both muttered. The car had no battery! Okay, it seemed, appeared, to have no battery. It had no battery in a place one might expect to find a battery, like under the hood. This was not going to be as easy as the Buick headlight. Invisible Guy was still ready to shock the monster to life. "We don't need to find the battery," he said. "This is where to hook the positive and negative jumper cables." Indeed, there were flaps so marked. I could hear Frau Blucher laughing in the background. We zapped the monster, and got the car moved across the parking lot without pushing it, thank heaven.

I'm not going to attempt to replace the Intrepid battery, even though I did find where it was hiding. This is what I learned about Intrepid batteries from Mopar and epinions.com:

I had a 1998 Dodge Intrepid, but after hearing all of the problems that happen when those hit 60,000 miles, I decided to trade it in since I was starting to have problems of my own with mine. After all, in a Dodge Intrepid it takes at least an hour to change the battery because you have to take the front wheel off, remove the wheelwell and then pull the battery out. Saturn's are pretty easy for the everyday person to work on, unlike the Intrepid where in order to replace the main belt you have to take the whole front end of the car apart.

It is very difficult to change the battery in this car. You have to hope that when the battery goes, you are at home as you have to remove the tire and the wheelwell to get the battery out. You don't want to be doing this in a parking lot.

The only problem I see with the engine is that if you need to change the battery for any reason you had better know what you are doing. The battery is not in its ?normal? place. It is located in a compartment in front of the tire in the right front fender and is accessible through the engine compartment. I will just bring it in to the shop to get the battery changed if I need that.

Good patient, bad patient

Impatient. My condo is just fine for most of my life when I am off to work, sleeping, writing, reading, or collaging. It is not good for being home sick from work. This is day three for me to sit around drinking water and staring at the walls...and the gigantic cobwebs...and the ugly caulk around the kitchen sink and bathtub. Decongestants make reading too demanding, so I sit here fantasizing about the perfect man.

Ask any woman my age to describe their favorite fantasy guy. Is it one of the 007 actors? Tommy Lee Jones? A sports hunk? Be honest, ladies, about your most compelling urges and desires. Who do you really need?

Yes! It's Eldin the housepainter from "Murphy Brown"! It might take Eldin six years to redo the caulk, knock down the cobwebs, repaint the condo, maybe pull up the bathroom carpet and replace it with a nice tile, but wouldn't it be satisfying?

Robert Pastorelli played Eldin Bernecky from 1988-1994, and he described the character thus:

"He's not just a house painter. He's an artist," Pastorelli told USA TODAY in 1992 about the part that made him a cult figure. "He keeps Murphy emotionally grounded. He smooths the lumps in her emotional oatmeal."

Best not to ponder lumpy oatmeal too long in my current schnozzy condition. I'm going to close my eyes for a little nap now, and hope the cobweb will have disappeared when I wake up.


Training Wheels

Spent time recently teaching an art project about bandannas. The kids became a bandanna, lining up on the edges, sharing the corners, and filling the middle. In a moment of inspiration I had them sit facing out from the middle of the rug, shoulder to shoulder, and do some goofy positions of the legs and wiggles of their feet, ala the June Taylor dancers on the Jackie Gleason Show.

My dearly demented friend brought up the subject of bicycles recently. Remember how grown-up and powerful you felt when you first got to ride your bike around the neighborhood, as long as you didn't cross any major streets? Have you ever felt that free and in control of your own destiny since? That might have been the pinnacle! Riding my bike to the swimming pool for an afternoon of swimming, diving off the board, and lying on the hot concrete was about as splendid as it gets!

Now we are considering Franz Marc and the Blue Rider painters. My used Schwinn bike was blue, but it had book baskets on either side of the rear wheel. Convinced some of my students that those gymnastic stunts are called "Car Twheels," because they are intended to be performed in their mothers' cars, not in my art class where other kids could be kicked.

I taut I taw a twaining wheel!

Australian sinusitis

I can't worry about the Asian bird flu right now. Too busy fighting my boomerang sinus infection. After a week of feeling great, all the symptoms returned overnight in a far uglier, brutish version, the sequel to a teen horror movie, no plot, no dialogue, just oozing special effects. This is not an aspersion on the Land Down Under with which I am quite fascinated. It's just that the sinus pain returned like a returning boomerang--swish, swish, swish, swish, CLONK! Plus, when I bend over to find the pan in the cupboard to heat up my soup I get all woozy and see little spots. The soup is good homemade beef vegetable though.

"I can't worry about avian flu," my friend said over coffee. "I'm too busy adjusting the thermostat for my hot flashes."

"I'm worried about bird flu," says my older co-worker. "I'm probably too young to get a flu shot."

As I read the National Geographic, I wonder if the Bush Administration can understand and accept the science of mutating viruses enough to admit there's a threat. Does it just muse from inside its bubble that an Intelligent Designer is finally going to wipe out those annoying folks who couldn't buy their way into an Ivy League school?

Halloween approaches. The first version of my sinus infection felt like the knife in the skull that my kids loved wearing to trick or treat.

The boomerang sequel resembles those creepy Muscovy ducks that plague the Dallas-Fort Worth Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area. The black/white/& red all over ducks that populate the pond at the senior high school, your corporate headquarters fountain, country clubs, and city parks... The ones with the blistery red faces and very bad hair that look like they escaped from Chernobyl....yeah, those! You may call them "turkey ducks", or you may call for the Goose Busters.

Muscovy ducks are frequently a problem in urban and residential areas, besides being as ugly and aggressive as a virulent sinus infection. They didn't arrive from Australia, but originated in South America. Muscovy ducks are not protected by Federal and State agencies. They chase children, defecate enough to make a sidewalk treacherous, and have sexual tendencies too disgusting for this PG blog. They are bad news!

I hope to blast the boomerang duck sinus infection to the moon with a new round of medications and decongestants. If you need a Halloween costume idea, consider the scary Muscovy duck! As soon as I feel better and quit seeing those little spots, I promise to worry about avian flu.


"Good Night and Good Luck"

Fit George Clooney's new movie in between the usual Friday errands. Had a lot of extra time, as no Buick repairs were required the week!

The movie about Edward R. Murrow and Joseph McCarthy is a visual delight in black and white. Every frame is a composition for the art teacher to consider. Every fraction of eye movement or puff of smoke is packed with meaning. My only wish is that the movie had spent five more minutes clarifying the roles of the various newsroom characters. The Wershbas are a mystery to me.

  • My photographer son and his film buddies need to see the movie because of the impact of black and white.
  • My vintage clothes shop son will like the Fifties style.
  • My speech and debate son will appreciate the rhetoric and enunciation.
  • My eclectic music son will love the Dianne Reeves jazz numbers.
  • My Fahrenheit 9/11 son will love the modern media cautionary tale.
  • My history major son will know all the background.
Remember those logic puzzles? Mr. Green lives in the tallest house. Mr. Gray's pet is black and white. The rhino eats Rice Krispies for breakfast. So who eats toast and jelly for breakfast on the roof of the blue house? I used to love those problems! They make so much more sense than real life. Plus, I only have three sons.

She's a young thing and cannot leave her mother...

I can't make a cherry pie, and I am much too young to actually remember the McCarthy Era, but I remember "McCarthyism" being as detested as "Tricky Dick" by adults around me. I loved to listen to Murrow and Fred Friendly's three albums of "I Can Hear It Now" on the hi-fi. Murrow's voice was so impressive, and I loved hearing Churchill, Roosevelt, and "Oh, the humanity!," of the Hindenburg disaster.

For all my precociousness, I couldn't quite sort out McCarthy until sometime around 1968. I wasn't as off-base as in my Dead Sea Squirrels confusion, but I did wonder how that puppet could be both funny and evil.

HUAC vs. HVAC. Are Commie Pinkos hiding in your duct work?


Look! It's Blue Dog vs. Blue Rider

"Prussian Blue" was the name of a Crayola crayon in my sixty-four crayon set as a young artist. I never did get a real clear understanding of "Prussian", and I was not alone. Binney and Smith changed the crayon name to "Midnight Blue".

But I'm not gonna let 'em catch me, no
Not gonna let them catch the midnight rider.

Learning to read in Mrs. Erickson's first grade class was a joy back in the fall of '61. We learned to read and write the name of a new color every few days. Red was first. We also learned to read "Look". When we learned to write "Look" we turned the o's into eyes, complete with eyelashes. Being able to read the labels on my crayons was a big thrill, and I'm delighted to report my young students still get just as excited when they reach that milestone.

But I'm not gonna let 'em catch me, no
Not gonna let them catch the midnight rider.

Franz Marc is one of my dad's favorite artists. I grew up with reproductions of Marc's horses and deer. Marc was one of the "Blue Rider" group of artists that included Wassily Kandinsky, August Macke, Paul Klee, and a few others. Both Marc and Macke were killed in WWI, bringing the Blue Rider group to a premature end.

But I'm not gonna let 'em catch me, no
Not gonna let them catch the midnight rider.

I wanted the students to consider movement or action in a painting. Marc's paintings have wonderful curves and overlapped shapes that move the viewer's eye around the painting. His bold, symbolic use of color sings.

The bad news is kids are totally intimidated at the thought of drawing a horse. So are adults and some art teachers! After the first day on this lesson, I had to change it. First we compared George Rodrigue's "Blue Dog" paintings to Franz Marc's "Blue Horses". We all pretty much agreed that Blue Dog has tension and interest, but no movement. A few kids want to know how Blue Dog moves between the pages of my book, Blue Dog Man. They have figured out that I'm not showing them nearly all the pages in the book, and they suspect Blue Dog goes crazy chasing cats and cars on the omitted pages. I suspect Blue Dog just goes by taxi downtown to stare at the ceiling from his psychoanalyst's couch.

Kids like the crazy colors in Franz Marc's paintings--red horses with blue manes, yellow horses with green manes, red deer and yellow dogs in white snow, a parade of blue monkeys. We look at "Cows: Yellow, Red, and Green," and I tell them that I believed that picture was the cow jumping over the moon when I was their age. It's easier for them to accept jumping yellow cows than me ever having been their age!

A perfect union of Blue Dog and Blue Rider!

The hills are alive with the sound of music.

I love the eye in the underwater cave, the scorpion, the happy turtle,

...the smiling swamp monster, and the pirate ship. The next one reminds me so much of watching the bats fly out from under Austin's Congress Avenue bridge last April! The one below pleases me greatly as a teacher, because it is the painting of a first grade boy on his own after we had completed the directed assignment. He was obviously applying everything we had learned:

How sweet it is!

Now it's time to pop the Allman Brothers in the cd player.


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